In an unforgettable exclusive clip from this documentary, the parents of a nonverbal teen boy with autism finally find out what he wants to tell them.

By Diane Debrovner
Jack and his father in "Far From the Tree."

When I first saw 'Far From the Tree' in an advanced screening two months ago, I could not get this heartbreaking scene out of my mind. Jack, a teenage boy featured in the film, has a severe form of autism and has never been able to speak. For years, his parents have struggled with how to manage his tantrums and erratic behavior and swallowed their grief about his future. They have almost lost hope that they will ever be able to understand him or help him. But finally, they bring him to a specialist who teaches him to use an alphabet board to spell words and share his feelings for the very first time. His parents are overwhelmed by a complicated mix of emotions you have to see for yourself in this exclusive clip.

The documentary, in select theaters July 20 and available on demand July 27, is based on Far From The Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, the best-selling book by Andrew Solomon. My mother often used the expression “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” as a way to compliment both a parent and child for sharing the same admirable trait. The film, directed by Rachel Dretzin, introduces us to parents whose children have a variety of differences or disabilities, including Down syndrome and dwarfism. And as the title suggests, it explores how parents make peace with the fact that their child is not the same as they are.

In a New York Times piece, Solomon explains it best: “It dwells on the intimidating dichotomy of parenting: deciding what to try to fix in your children and what to accept and even celebrate. It argues that many families initially experience despair at diagnoses that end up filling their lives with meaning, that people often become grateful for lives they would have done anything to avoid.” 

Certainly, many of us know what it’s like to wish that our kids were more like us in some way—perhaps they’re not athletic or artistic or adventurous eaters like we are. The individual stories in the film give us a window into “lives that might seem unbearable from the outside,” Solomon says, but ultimately the film celebrates the power of empathy to make us all more tolerant.

'Far From the Tree' premieres in select theaters on July 20 and is available on demand on July 27. 

 

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